THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
The next morning, Yeshua took his farewell of Zacchaeus and
departed out of Jericho. It is a fifteen-mile trip from
Jericho to Jerusalem, and a three thousand foot climb. The
countryside becomes drier as you progress up the road away from
the oasis of Jericho, which is watered by the 'Ain es Sultan and
the Wadi Qilt but surrounded by the wilderness of Judea on all
sides, finally arriving at the foot of Mount Olivet, where the
little village of Beth-Aniya sits, only two miles from Jerusalem,
shaded by the somber peak of Mount Scopus, the tallest of the
three peaks of Mount Olivet, 2,700 feet above sea level, near the
creek called the Kidron, which flows into the salt sea. Yeshua
would not have passed any other villages on this hike, but would
have crossed over the Wadi Qumran, somewhere above the location
of the settlement of the sect of the Qumranians who left the
"Dead Sea Scrolls". No doubt it was nightfall by the time he and
his followers reached Beth-Aniya and found a place to stay for
Yeshua may have given some kind of farewell speech before he
left Jericho; and he surely must have spoken to the
disciples and his followers on the way. Matthew tells us
the following parable about the time Yeshua was in Jericho,
called the parable of the labourers in the vineyard:
For the kingdom of God is like a householder,
who went to the village early in the morning
to hire labourers to work in his vineyard.
And when he had contracted with them for a
dollar a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
He went out again during the middle of the
morning, and saw men standing idle in the
marketplace; so he said to them, Go work in
my vineyard, and at dusk I will pay your wages.
So they too went to the vineyard.
He went out yet again about noon and hired
others, and again during the middle of the
afternoon, and hired still more.
Then at nearly five o'clock he went out
for one last time, and found still other men
standing idle, and he asked, Why have you been
standing here idle all day? They answered,
Because no man has hired us. So he told them
too to go work in his vineyard, and that he
would pay them at evening.
Then when dusk had fallen, he told the foreman
to pay them all their wages, beginning with the
last he had hired. So when the men who had been
hired at 5 o'clock came, they each received a
dollar for their hour's work.
Then those who had been hired earlier in the
morning came, and they were sure that they would
be paid more than the last hired; but each of
them too received a dollar. Then they complained
about the householder, and said, These last have
worked only one hour, but you have paid them the
same as us, who have borne the burden of the day
and the scorching heat.
But the householder told them, Friend, I did
not do you anything wrong; didn't you contract
with me to work for a dollar a day? Take your
wages, and go home now; it is all right for me to
pay the last as much as I have paid you. Isn't
it lawful for me to do what I want with my money?
or do you think that you are better than I am?
A startling result! So it does not matter to God, who is surely
the lord of the vineyard, whether you begin working in the vineyard
of the world under the reign of God today or tomorrow; he will
reward you just the same. Yeshua might have been saying that even
though the Jews had been given the Torah twelve centuries before,
and should have learned how to be just and merciful to all people
by now, the Romans, who were latecomers on the international scene,
but who could just as ably practice those teachings if they wanted
to, would in the final analysis be treated equally by God. This
parable pounds the last coffin nail into the chosen people theory,
whether for the Jews, or for any other group that considers itself
Luke reports that Yeshua told one more parable on the way to
Jerusalem, in response to the expectations of his listeners
that the "kingdom of God" was immediately to appear. Matthew
gives a slightly different version of the parable but not until
after they have arrived in Jerusalem. We can believe that the
two versions are the result of the remembering of two different
people; anyone who has told a story knows how, without intending
any distortion, you forget some details, and put in others to make
the story more vivid; even I must have done that in telling this,
THE STORY OF YESHUA, try as I might to be as accurate as I can.
But plucking out from the two versions those elements which are
indisputably common to both, the nub of the parable, which is
known as the parable of the talents, is as follows:
A certain nobleman was going into a far country,
so he called his servants to him, and put them
in charge of his finances. And he gave one of
them five talents, and another two, and another
one; and he instructed them to manage his business
until he returned.
Immediately the servant that had received the
five talents went and traded with them, and soon
he had five more talents. The servant that had
received two talents soon doubled his money also.
But the servant that had received one talent
went and dug a hole and hid his lord's money.
And after many days the nobleman came back, and
called his servants again for a reckoning.
And the servant that had received the five
talents came and brought the other five, and
showed them to him. The lord was pleased, and
set the servant over an even larger part of his
And the servant that had received two talents
came and brought the other two, and showed them
to him. Again the lord was pleased, and set the
servant over a great deal of his wealth.
Finally the one who had received only one talent
came and said, Sir, I knew you were a severe man,
reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where
you did not scatter; so I kept your talent hidden
in the ground; see, here it is.
But his lord said to him, You lazy servant,
since you say that I reap where I do not sow,
and gather where I did not scatter, you should
at least have put my money in the bank, so that
I could have gotten it back with interest.
Take the talent away from him, and give it to
the servant that has ten talents. For unto
every one who has much shall more be given; but
from him who has nothing, even that which he has
will be taken away.
A "talent" was a considerable weight of coinage, varying in the
countries around the Great Sea, but roughly about 2,000 dollars
in modern money. But what is Yeshua telling his listeners? The
point of the parable might be, Invest your money, and make more;
but surely Yeshua wasn't being as crass as that! Or the point
might be instead: Develop your talents, and you will be promoted;
stripped of the taint of mammony, that may indeed have been
Yeshua's purpose in telling the parable. But perhaps the point
of the parable is not the increase of an investment, which is
after all a rather commonplace observation, but the punishment of
the person who does not invest, by the loss of his wealth. And
surely money which is not invested declines in value according to
the law of inflation, which, however, Yeshua could not have known,
although he might have intuited it. But it is most difficult to
see what this parable has to do with the appearance of the reign
And it is hard to see how increasing your wealth by investment
is consistent with Yeshua's earlier teachings: Sell all that
you have; and, Lust not after possessions, for you cannot serve
both God and mammon. Neither is the concept of taking away a poor
person's little holding because they didn't invest it consistent
with Yeshua's teaching that the eleventh hour labourers are rewarded
by the owner of the vineyard equally with the rest, or that his
followers were to be poor, or that the poor were blessed. Such a
concept would seem to be saying that the reign of God consists of
the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer! which we
cannot believe Yeshua would have supported. In short, perhaps the
original meaning of the parable has been lost in transmission, so
that we cannot really tell what this parable is telling us about
the reign of God, or ethical behaviour, or anything else Yeshua
has been talking about so far.
It seems cautiously safe to suppose that Yeshua may have
been saying that the Jews were like the servant who buried
his one talent, and that since they have not applied the
teachings of Yohanan and the great prophets of the eighth century
B.C.E. or the Torah itself, they will not count in the establishment
of any kind of peaceful kingdom on earth, and will certainly not
attain the reign of God of which he and Yohanan have spoken. But
who can the servant with the ten talents represent? the Romans?
the Herodians? the amme ha-eretz? anybody at all? And is it God
who is supposed to be the lord who reaps where he does not sow?
It is a most puzzling parable, despite being one of the best known.
But we can see that his parables are certainly getting more
political, and not at all as simple and clear as the ones he told
at first back home on the plain of Gennesaret.
As they were going in the way up to Jerusalem, Yeshua could
not help thinking, This is it. Tomorrow they would be in
Jerusalem, and in a week he would have been killed by the
authorities. There was no way they could stand listening to his
message, any more than the ancient Judeans could stand listening to
Jeremiah preaching nonresistance to the Assyrians, or than Herod
could stand being condemned by Yohanan, or any powerful class could
stand listening to a prophet telling them that their oppressive
privileges were evil. So again he took the twelve disciples to one
side, and tried to tell them what was going to happen to him:
Let me tell you one more time: we are going up
to Jerusalem, and the son of man shall be arrested
by the chief priests and the scribes; and they
shall condemn him to death, and shall turn him in
to the Romans; and they shall mock him, and shall
spit upon him, and shall whip him, and shall
But I predict that within three days my spirit
will revive among you all and empower you.
No clearer forecast of his future was ever told by any man; but
the disciples did not understand a word. This is the third
time that Yeshua has foretold his death, but his words were
incomprehensible to the disciples, and for all the perception
they had of his meaning, they might as well not have heard it
So they spent the night in Beth-Aniya, which is Hebrew for
"the house of date trees". John says that it was the home
zf Mary and Martha; Luke however has placed their home in a
village in Samaria. Perhaps it was the home of a relative of
theirs, and they had joined Yeshua on his journey to Jerusalem.
But tomorrow they would go up to the great city; it was the
month to celebrate the ancient Jewish feast of Pesach, commemorating
their traditional escape from the land of Egypt and the
oppression of Rameses II. It would be Yeshua's second and final
visit to Jerusalem. On the first, he had amazed the rabbis with
his understanding; this coming week, well, they would see, but
as we have heard him say, he had no hope as to the outcome.